One of the most important things to me as a parent is having a healthy relationship with my children. The heart of having a healthy relationship with them (or anyone) is good communication. I have four children, and each is vastly different. I have a child who tells me everything — we’re talking full disclosure. I have another child who tells me a little bit here and there without warning, and then my others are so undercover, it’s like pulling teeth to spill any information out of them. They are all so different. I have to approach my relationship with each one of them uniquely to build a relationship of trust.
One thing that I have learned in my career as a mom is that kids do not want to be judged (or anyone) at any age. When kids make mistakes and feel shame, it can leave them feeling insecure and inhibited. Meanwhile, teenagers are hardwired to make mistakes (so are we). As kids get older, fear may lead them to hide their mistakes and that’s when deception begins.
My husband and I have always told our kids that we know they are going to make mistakes, that’s part of being human. We urge them to make sure that the mistakes they make can be fixed and learned from. As parents, we have to set realistic expectations for our children. There are some kids (not mine) that will do what is asked of them. Then there are other kids who push the envelope or choose to learn the hard way. The stakes get higher when children become teenagers and are exposed to things that we parents cannot fully control. This is the scariest part of being a parent. It is crucial to have honest, unbiased conversations with your kids about these issues. It’s important to share what is and is not acceptable in your household without holding judgment. I try my hardest to speak from my heart and not from a place of fear. Most importantly, kids need to feel loved. They need to know that our love for them is unconditional and when they do mess up, it remains unconditional.
I have always firmly believed that one must lead by example because we all know that our words are cheap if we don’t abide by them. This holds true for parenting as well. My husband and I do not drink, but we are under no illusion that our children will never try alcohol. We live our lives in a way that we hope they will emulate, but we are also realistic and honest with them in hopes that they will feel comfortable being transparent with us. It’s no easy feat, but we would rather have a relationship with our kids vs. try and control them. The more they see our willingness to understand, the wiser their choices are. It’s so very hard, this teenager thing, that sometimes I actually wish I drank to take the edge off!
Again, communicating with our kids by asking them open-ended questions, even when we don’t like the answers they give, creates a connection. It’s a process and a skill that I’m working at daily, but I can say with certainty that learning how to communicate is truly the heart of the matter. It’s one of the hardest learnings of all, but it yields the greatest benefits.
Love is the best medicine. May we all learn to express love to our children in the best ways that we can.